TrialWatch® Q&A

Trial monitoring can help promote fairness in the courtroom in at least three ways:

  • it can foster transparency, providing a neutral report of what transpired;
  • it can protect defendants’ rights in individual cases because the judge knows they are being watched, and follow-up advocacy is easier to conduct when a record of the trial is available; and
  • it can be a tool to facilitate analysis and reform of the administration of justice.

There is no comprehensive global program scrutinizing the courts of the world; nor is there a global standard for how trial monitoring should be conducted. TrialWatch aims to fill this gap by professionalizing and scaling the practice of trial monitoring. This means:

  • training a new cadre of trial monitors, including non-lawyers, through an online course (coming soon);
  • building a community of trial monitors working in courtrooms around the world; and
  • taking a data-driven approach to the practice of trial monitoring that will allow the fairness of trials to be compared and states to be evaluated on the Global Justice Ranking,™ which can be taken into account by governments and investors intending to do business in that country.

While we have just launched the program, the cases monitored so far have already demonstrated both the value and risks of trial monitoring. In several of these cases, there was considerable value in getting a monitor into the courtroom and in doing so starting to change the status quo from inaccessibility to respect for the right to a public trial.  In Algeria, for instance, the trial was one of the first to be monitored by an international organization in years.  On some occasions, the monitor’s presence seems to have improved the fairness of the proceedings.

In selecting trials for monitoring, we consider a range of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • whether the defendant is a member of a vulnerable group;
  • the risks the trial poses, not just to the individual defendant, but to others, for instance where an unfair conviction might chill freedom of expression;
  • the nature of the tribunal and the law at issue;
  • and the value of shining a light – whether simply by virtue of a monitor’s presence or through advocacy – on that particular trial.

Yes, we are focusing on trials targeting journalists, human rights defenders, LGBTQ persons, women and girls, and minorities. For instance, we anticipate monitoring cases in which a journalist is prosecuted simply for exposing government corruption or abuse. We will monitor cases in which members of the LGBTQ community are prosecuted for the ‘crime’ of being gay, or where women or minorities are targeted on account of their gender or identity.

Our program is global in scope.  By funding and training non-lawyers as well as lawyers to conduct trial monitoring all over the world, we hope to overcome some of the practical hurdles that have traditionally precluded trial monitoring at scale.

We will work to shine a light on abuses wherever they occur. Our goal is to assist those whose rights have been violated in their pursuit of justice, including by ensuring access to competent legal counsel.  Our trial monitoring reports can serve as an indispensable record of proceedings, allowing counsel to expose unfairness as they pursue appeals in national or international human rights bodies. Over time, we will evaluate states’ justice systems on the Global Justice Ranking™ to expose the extent to which they conduct fair trials and comply with the rule of law.